Small Animal Internal Medicine

Research Abstract

OT02 - The Effect of Client Complaints on Small Animal Veterinary Internists

Thursday, June 14
6:00 PM - 6:15 PM
Location: WSCC 618/619


Multiple studies have found veterinarians to be at a higher risk for suicide compared to the general population. Risk factors that have been associated with psychological distress in veterinarians include being a practice associate, practicing for less than 20 years and practicing shelter medicine. For human physicians, patient complaints lead to increased risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. Secondary effects of these complaints on physicians include practicing medicine more defensively, avoiding high risk procedures or patients and performing unnecessary diagnostics. Veterinary medicine, due to the need for owners to use their own disposable income, leads to different potential sources of conflict between veterinarians and clients, 

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of client complaints on small animal veterinary internist’s welfare, their job satisfaction, as well as the way they practice veterinary medicine. A web-based anonymous questionnaire was made available through the American College Veterinary Internal Medicine sub-specialty Small Animal Internal Medicine E-mail List Serve between January 1st and March 31st 2017. 

92 surveys were obtained and available for review. 64% of respondents had received a client complaint within the preceding 6 months with the cost of care the most common reason. The majority of respondents (96%) worried to varying degrees about a client complaint being made against them. More concerning, almost 35% reported being verbally assaulted by a client within the preceding six months and 27% reported being threatened with litigation. A majority reported that they have changed the way they practice veterinary medicine to avoid a complaint being made against them and 43% said they had considered changing their career because of client complaints. 

The study confirmed that client complaints are a common source of distress for veterinary internists. The high percentage of conflicts being due to cost of care illustrates a central problem in veterinary medicine that is an issue most veterinarians cannot control. Veterinarians need to consider how client education on cost of care can be achieved. There also needs to be a way or forum that allows veterinarians to openly discuss client complaints and how to deal with them in a supportive environment.  As veterinary medicine becomes more advanced and we offer more expensive treatments and procedures, the issue of client complaints and communication will likely continue to grow. 

Colleen Tansey, DVM, DACVIM (Oncology)

Inland Valley Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Center


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OT02 - The Effect of Client Complaints on Small Animal Veterinary Internists


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